Chris Jasper/FRANKFURT

Lufthansa chairman and chief executive Jurgen Weber has indicated that the carrier is close to agreeing the sale of its 20% share in troubled Lauda Air to Austrian Airlines.

Asked if talks had been held on selling the stake, he replied: "Quite clearly yes." Weber says discussions "have been going on for some time" and he hopes the process will be "completed this year". Austrian holds 35.9% of Lauda but is seeking majority control of the loss-making leisure carrier.

Weber says he is otherwise happy with the German flag-carrier's position in Europe, and that he has no outstanding alliance ambitions, although Swiss press reports claim SAirGroup is looking at selling Swissair, and tout Lufthansa as a possible bidder. Swiss tabloid Blick says SAir board members led by Credit Suisse chairman and chief executive Lukas Mühlemann favour selling some or all of its airline operations to realise their value and concentrate on activities such as catering, ground handling, logistics and IT.

SAir says the report is "speculation", and will not comment on the agenda of a board meeting set for 22 November. SAir CEO Philippe Bruggisser is thought to favour retaining control of Swissair and subsidiary Crossair, but is open to selling a minority stake to a strategic partner. Swissair is in alliance talks with Alitalia, with some reports suggesting the two are close to a share-swap deal.

Weber himself condemned the relatively poor share prices enjoyed by airlines in general and Lufthansa in particular, in announcing a near-record performance for the first three quarters, with operating profits up 51% to €794 million ($676 million). "Market prices are at the prey of fantasy," says Weber. "My impression is that some have let their fantasy run wild at times during the year."

Lufthansa bucked the industry trend by hiking passenger capacity by 6.7% and saw load factor rise 1.8 points to 75.2% and revenue leap 20% to c10.8 billion. Hedging countered fuel price rises, while the weak euro boosted business. Three units - Lufthansa Technik, C&N Touristic and GlobeGround - made losses, but Lufthansa expects fourth quarter improvements.

Source: Flight International